It was the Witching Hour.
I couldn’t help but hear Prince’s “Let’s Go Crazy” playing as the soundtrack nightly the first 6 months my Golden Retriever puppy was with me. This normally adorable, cuddly, playful ball of golden cuteness turned into an outright lunatic for an hour.
I hope to help avoid the tears, bleeding, and despair I felt by sharing my lessons with you.
What is the “Witching Hour”?
I did extensive research to learn about what I called “The Witching Hour.” I learned people had other names for it.
- “Six O’clock Stupid”
- “Happy Hour” (two bites for the price of one)
- “Zoomies on Zoomies”
This is the time or times of day, generally one in the morning and one in the evening, when a puppy goes outright insane. Running haphazardly, jumping on furniture, biting any surface that gets in its way, and uncontrollable energy.
‘How’s the puppy?’ everyone would ask me. I’d respond honestly, ‘22 hours a day I have the cutest puppy ever. Two hours a day I have a demon from the depths of Hades.’
I felt like a terrible dog owner. My vet reassured me this was normal, even as she eyed the fresh bite wounds on my hands from the previous night’s Witching Hour.
The Absolute Rules of Training a Puppy
There are a few things you can do to have a better-behaved puppy. Warning: You need to be a better-behaved owner.
You cannot stop the Witching Hour, but you can control it. If you scream at the dog or give chase, the dog is only going to think ‘Oh great! She’s joining the fun!’
Puppies need routines. They need to potty, eat, play, and sleep, at the same times each day. The more you can control the routine, the faster your dog will adapt.
Of course, you need to incorporate plenty of exercise throughout the day, but no amount of exercise is going to rid the risk of Witching Hours.
If It’s Not Okay, It Can Never Be Okay
Never encourage a puppy to play with your hands. They are going to bite, only they don’t see it as biting. They see it as exploring their new world. From Day One, there must be a hard-and-fast rule of what can be chewed on and what can’t be.
Fingers, hands, feet, and toes are never to be used during play. It can’t be adorable and Instagram-worthy at 8:00 a.m. when it’s a gentle bite but “BAD DOG” when it happens at 7:00 p.m. during lunacy.
A firm and loud “OUCH!” should alert them they crossed a line.
Exercise Their Minds
Exercise Isn’t Just physical.
Remember the last time you had a tough work project that required a lot of focus and attention to detail? Now, remember how mentally exhausted you were from that. Do the same to your dogs.
We have “The Food Game.” It’s a puzzle tray with plastic bones that cover small holes. Half of the holes are filled with food and covered, while the other half is left empty. The dog must sniff out the food.
Mental exercise can be as simple as hiding treats throughout the home and letting the dog find them.
Even 15 minutes of focused training with a puppy, helpful things like “No” and “Leave It” can wear out their developing minds.
“There are a few things you can do to have a better-behaved puppy. Warning: You need to be a better-behaved owner.“
Get Ahead of the Witching Hour
You know it’s coming, so start acceptable play ahead of time.
- Rotate acceptable toys repeatedly to engage your puppy mentally and physically
- Give them a Kong toy filled with treats or peanut butter
- Freeze a washcloth soaked in chicken broth and give it to them in their kennel or a safe space
If you have children in the home, direct them to not run and chase during this time. It’s only going to feed the behavior.
You Must Be Willing to Hold the Puppy Accountable
If the puppy gets out of control, give warnings and then time-out.
I have a special flair for drama that makes it easy for an intense “Owwww” when my puppy would bite me. I’d fall over and play dead, facing away from her. I was making progress.
Then, one time, she full-on bit puppy-teeth deep into one of my toes. My eyes watered with pain as my bloody hand grabbed my now throbbing toe, yet the puppy was coming around the bend for another attack.
She went into the closet for a 5-minute time-out.
Why the closet? I had a trainer tell me to not use the crate as a punishment since that was supposed to be a happy, safe space. I was to put her in a place with nothing to play with and to limit her senses as much as possible.
She’d come out a little calmer. Then, in a snap, she’d crash. As quickly as the Witching Hour began, it was over.
Own Your Role in the Witching Hour
If my dog was a demon from Hades, there were times I was the gatekeeper to the underworld.
I’d walk her quickly before going to work out. This wasn’t fair, I realized. I adjusted my workout schedule. I created a fitness area in the garage so we could both burn energy.
You can also over-exercise a puppy which can be harmful to their health. Start with three sessions of playtime, 15-30 minutes each time, and adjust as needed based on the puppy’s reaction.
If you are coming home from a tough day at work, the puppy has been cooped up all day. They want to play. Taking them out for a potty and quick walk around the block isn’t always enough. Dedicate a real 15-30 minutes of playtime no matter how tired or busy you are.
“You wanted the companionship and love that a dog gives in exchange for very little. Even when the dog gets nothing, she still wants to hang out with her people. What other friendship works on those terms? It really isn’t asking too much for you to spend some dedicated one-on-one time with her. “ – AKC Trainer Hilarie Erb
I did do a lot of research on the Witching Hour, and I even had a book about month-by-month with Golden Retrievers. Chapter 5 was the 5-month-old mark. It was titled “The Rebel.” I took a shower one morning and came out to find my 5-month-old rebel eating Chapter 5, fully living up to the chapter’s title.
Sometimes that little demon sure can be funny and ironic.
If you enjoyed this post, you should read 4 Ways to Change A Pet's Life For The Better here.